The Incas called quinoa "the mother of all seed."  This grain was also known as "the gold of the Aztecs."  Known to give strength and stamina to those who consumed it, cooked quinoa seeds are fluffy and creamy while still being a little crunchy. 

Quinoa has a delicate, subtle taste not unlike its cousins:  the beet, chard and spinach.  Some people even call quinoa a "vege-grain."  This food can be eaten as a main dish or a side dish or used in puddings and soups or used as a flour in baking.  Quinoa cooks quickly (20 minutes or so).

Quinoa can help prevent anemia, regulate blood pressure and help fight fatigue.


The most popular variety of quinoa is a transparent yellow, but other types are red, purple, orange,  pink or even black.  Quinoa seeds when cooked are creamy and fluffy, but still slightly crunchy.  The seeds have a subtle flavor which is slightly nutty.  The leaves are also edible with a taste like that found in beets, spinach and chard. 


This grain has been produced in South America (Bolivia, Chile and Peru) since 3000 B.C.E.  The native South Americans used this plant as a dietary staple, with the Incas honoring quinoa as a special food known to provide strength and stamina.

The existence of quinoa was nearly stamped out by the Spanish conquistadors as they attempted to destroy the South American natives and their culture.  Quinoa was decreed illegal with death the punishment for cultivating this grain. 

In the 1980s, two individuals from Colorado became interested in quinoa and its potential for aiding in good health.  Since that time, the availability of this grain has substantially increased.

Nutritional Information

This grain is an excellent source of manganese and magnesium, and contains three times as much magnesium as calcium.  Quinoa is also a good source of protein and has healthy levels of vitamin B2, vitamin E, and dietary fiber.  Iron, copper, zinc and phosphorous can also be found in quinoa.

Quinoa is packed with protein.  Unlike the protein found in most other grains, quinoa is complete, meaning it contains all nine amino acids that the human body needs to receive from food.  This fact makes quinoa an excellent choice for those people who limit meat in their diets and have a hard time consuming enough protein.

Health Benefits

Quinoa is probably the least allergenic of all the known grains and is wheat-free and gluten-free.  As in buckwheat, quinoa has a great amino acid profile, not just because of its absolute high protein content but because it contains all the essential amino acids.  Quinoa is particularly high in the amino acid lysine, which is an important component for helping tissues to grow and repair themselves.

Those individuals who do not get enough magnesium in their diets have a higher risk for developing high blood pressure.  Some physicians have proven that when those people with low levels of magnesium start getting more of this important mineral, their blood pressure improves, their blood is less likely to clot and their heart beats in a more regular fashion.  Quinoa can aid in restoring magnesium to a more healthy standard.  Just a half cup of quinoa contains 90 milligrams of magnesium, which is 22 percent of the daily recommended value.


Quinoa contains moderate to large amounts of oxalate.  Those people who have a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid or limit their consumption of this grain.

Selecting and Storing

To ensure maximum freshness, it is important there is no moisture in the quinoa being purchased.  If this grain is bought in bulk, the bins should be covered and the grocer should have a high volume and a quick turnover. 

Quinoa should be stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dry place, where it will keep for a few months.  If stored in the refrigerator, quinoa can last longer (from three to six months). 

When purchasing quinoa, it is important to remember that it expands to several times it original size during cooking.

Serving Ideas for Quinoa

Any leftover saponins on the quinoa coat should be thoroughly washed by putting the seeds into a fine-meshed strainer and running cold water over them several times.  The seeds should be rubbed gently with the fingers.  Taste a seed:  if it is bitter, more washing is required.

To cook quinoa perfectly, add 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid in a saucepan.  After the mixture boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover.  One cup of quinoa cooked in this way takes about 15 to 20 minutes to prepare (which is less than brown rice).  At the end of the cooking process the grains become translucent and the white germ partially detaches itself from the main body of the grain.  For those who like a nuttier flavor, dry roast the quinoa for 5 minutes in a skillet before cooking.

Here are a few serving ideas for quinoa:

  • Take 1 to 2 cups of cooked, chilled quinoa and add one can of organic pinto beans, 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, coriander and 3 minced scallions.  Add mustard and extra-virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

  • Use sprouted quinoa in sandwiches and salads, similar to alfalfa sprouts.

  • Try pasta noodles made from quinoa.

  • Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve it as a breakfast porridge.

  • Toss quinoa into favorite vegetable soups.

  • To change the flavor and texture of cookie or muffin recipes, add quinoa flour.


  1. Holford, P.(2004). The optimum nutrition bible. London : Piatkus
  2. Holford, P & Lawson, S. (2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
  3. Murray, M.T. et al.(2005). Encyclopedia of healing foods. London : Piatkus
  4. Yeager, S. & Prevention Health Books. (1998). The doctors book of food remedies : the newest discoveries in the power of food to cure and prevent health problems from aging and diabetes to ulcers and yeast infections. [Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale

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